23 December 2011

THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI/1966/BORIS KARLOFF/BASIL RATHBONE

THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI

1966/Director: Don Weis/Writers: Louis M. Heyward, Elwood Ullman

Cast: Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Susan Hart, Tommy Kirk, Deborah Walley, Quinn O'Hara, Harvey Lembeck, Nancy Sinatra, Jesse White

By the time the 7th and last of the AIP beach party movies, Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, came out in 1967 the films had lost the charm that made them so much fun in the early 60’s. But the world was changing and The Beatles were dropping acid now and Sgt. Pepper was a year away as were bands like The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. Sounds by bands like The Bobby Fuller Four just was not what “the kids” were into anymore. In fact AIP itself was about to shift gears big time and begin their drug and biker exploitation films of the late 60’s and early 70’s in order to keep up with the times. What was cool about the beach party films, while they lasted, is that really seemed to reflect a time that never really existed. I mean certainly there were surfers and some great surf and hotrod music from the early to mid 60’s. But the whole Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon world of sexless love and innocent, sugary pop songs sang on beaches at sunset by “teenagers” on perennial spring break from some life we never see into possessed an almost Wizard of OZ quality that simply never seemed real. Even as a gullible kid I just never believed there was a world like this out there somewhere and that I could be a part of it. Later when I heard The Door’s Riders on the Storm and Led Zeppelin’s The Immigrant Song I knew there was some kind of world waiting for me, but not one where I would croon to Deborah Walley and when she batted her doe-like eyes at me and I knew we would never have sex but that was okay because in our world there was no sex really, barely even kissing, and that was just groovy. And I could be like thirty years old and still be an irresponsible teenager with nothing to do but surf and act goofy to get the attention of all the babes in bikinis. Well that world had to end. People have to reproduce and AIP had to sell movie tickets. Ghost in the Invisible Bikini is in no way a terrible note to end the film series on but it is obvious the gimmick had run its course by then.

Absent from this film are the king and queen of beach party films Frankie and Annette, both who had better things to do with their lives by now. Filling in the lead roles are Deborah (Gidget) Walley and never a great leading man Tommy Kirk. Kirk was always better as 2nd fiddle and both he and Walley are pretty absent form the screen for being the film’s leads. Also absent from the film is any sort of beach. The action takes place in a haunted mansion surrounded by a lovely green lawn but is equipped with a swimming pool for the teens to party around. The parties are not as cool really without the beach and surf and some of the dance moves really look convoluted and stiff. Nancy Sinatra joins the Bobby Fuller Four for a song called Geronimo that may have sounded cool in 1963 but really seems corny here. No problem since she was about to take off later the same year with These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ and later with more great songs after teaming up with producer, partner, svengali Lee Hazelwood. The typically shameless AIP producers of Invisible Bikini would do all they could later to tie the tie film in with the hit song in their promotions. But Nancy looks great in the film during her brief appearances. In fact everybody only seems to have brief appearances.

By this time in his career Boris Karloff was not in the best of health and usually appeared sitting down in many of his late 60’s film roles. His scenes were often shot without interaction with the rest of a movie’s cast and were hastily tacked on later and his name was used to promote the film. This is certainly true, I understand, of the four reputedly terrible films he made with Jack Hill and Mexican director Luis Vergara. He had done several great Edgar Allen Poe features with Roger Corman for AIP but for Invisble Bikini he is simply billed as The Corpse (though his character has a name, Hyram Stokley) and spends his scenes peering into a crystal ball talking to himself. The only other actor he interacts with is Mrs. James H. Nicholson herself Susan Hart (as Cecily the ghost) but it is still Boris Karloff and he is always fun to watch, never taking himself too seriously. The completely ravishing Hart looks stunning as always and shows more skin than she did in Ride the Wild Surf (see my previous post.) The ‘invisible bikini’ itself is not as lurid as it sounds and is really more like some poorly done super imposed shots where the bikini and Cecily’s body are transparent. I am just saying, you know, a real invisible bikini would, ah, show something other than the background scenery. What it would show I have no clue. Heck, it is a darn beach party movie for goodness sake!

The films starts off with a scene reminiscent of the classic AIP Poe horror films with the ghost of Cecily wandering through a fog shrouded graveyard to awaken her former boyfriend (we didn’t say lover yet in those days) Hiram Stokley to inform him he has a chance to be young again –though technically still dead- if he can but perform a good deed within the next 24 hours. As it so happens his estate is about to be divided up within the very same 24 hour period and he does not want to go to his unscrupulous lawyer Reginald Ripper (played by Basil Rathbone) and his thuggish partner J. Sinister Hulk (played by the loneliest Maytag repairman in the world Jesse White.) In fact it seems Stokley has no definite heirs to give his estate and it’s hidden treasure to but out of a sense of atonement he wants to give the fortune to the now grown children of two former circus partners he swindled. And those kids would be, of course, Chuck Phillips (Kirk) and Lilli Morton (Walley). Naturally Ripper will stop at nothing, including murder, to prevent the estate from gong to anybody else but himself. He enlists the help of his daughter Sinistra (Quinn O’Hara) to do his bidding though she seems to focus only on eliminating the distant blood heir Bobby who is pretty much afraid of his own shadow. With Bobby is his aunt Myrtle Forbush (Patsy Kelley) who just happens to be able to be a medium and conducts a couple séances in a an attempt to add a little supernatural atmosphere to the film. The film soon becomes your basic ‘try to scare the people out of staying one night in the haunted house’ story line. Later there will be appearances by such frightful creatures as a gorilla (played by the king of the monkey suit George Barrows), a mummy sort of thing and a man in a monster suit that has to be one of the costumes used for the Larry Buchanan made for AIP TV feature The Eye Creatures, which was a remake for Azalea Pictures of the great –to me anyway- AIP film Invasion of the Saucer Men. AIP was one company that never got tired of plugging itself or creating inside jokes, or simply being cheap and reusing costumes –usually designed by Paul Blaisdell- from previous films.

Also appearing in the film is Harvey Lembeck (of the Phil Silvers Show) as Eric Von Zipper, the clueless leader of The Rat Pack (and, I think, sometimes called The Rats or The Ratz.) Von Zipper appeared in the beach party films and was the arch-nemesis of the beach gang. He hated surfers and did all he could to ruin their fun. As a kid I always like Von Zipper the most and though he was the funniest aspect of the beach party films. Also showing up, with Monstro the gorilla, is a dingy Native American circus worker named Chicken Feather (Benny Rubin) and the lovely blond bombshell Princess Yolanda (Bobbi Shaw). Not sure what they are supposed to do other than supply Monstro to Ripper to help scare the heirs out the house before the estate is claimed. A lot of the gags sure seemed funnier when I was a kid and now watching them I find my self laughing more at how unfunny the jokes and gags are and how cardboard the acting is, and yet this is an AIP beach feature and that is what I go into one of these for. I would want nothing less than seeing a character like the cowardly Bobby wake up in his bed and find a monster lying next to him under the covers only to have it disappear when everyone returns to check out his story. You laugh not because it is hilarious but because it is a lame and worn out routine that befits something like Gilligan’s Island more than a feature length film. But by golly, I like it anyway.

The film appears as a DVD MGM Midnite-Movie double feature with the utterly forgettable Ghost of Drag Strip Hollow but it would seem to be a logical pairing. Like I said earlier this is not a bad note to end the AIP beach party films on. If they had gone one more who knows how dreadful that would have turned out. It was time to put the sunny beaches and campy love songs behind and it was done in this film where not a beach is to be seen but there are still plenty of curvy bikini girls ready to do the twist or watusi at the drop of a hat, or turntable stylus. The biker and LSD films by AIP would start coming out within a year and lets be honest, those were really some entertaining films, much more so than the beach party ones in my opinion. And yet these little movies have a place too and if you grew up on them on Saturday afternoons they may mean something more to you than to someone who grew up on cable TV and DVD stores. There was a time when this stuff was it baby. The Mighty Sons of Hercules. Tarzan. John Wayne and Roy Rogers. And Beach Blanket Bingo. You either watched ‘”the thrill of victory… the agony of defeat” on Wide World of Sports or Marlon Perkin’s wrestle sedated boa constrictors for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. You could not be choosy.


3 comments:

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

This is the only beach party movie I've seen (which I watched solely becuase of Karloff and Rathbone) and it might be my last! hehe. Have a great Christmas!

Bill D. Courtney said...

Ah, don't give up hope my friend. Some beach films were mindless drivel (well, almost all were I guess) but they are a lot of fun I think.

jimmy dean said...

As a Brit Bike owner, I must point out that Eric von Zipper's ride is a Triumph(as are most others) and no Harleys or Choppers appear in his gang. They came in the later pix when A.I.P. went for the Hells Angels look. The only similarity is the "scary" black leather.